Dear Dr. Jeter,
I am in receipt of your letter of April 16, 2002.
You say, "As you may very well know there is no law or rule that would allow a child to be physically hurt at school or at home."
In fact, I do know of a law that allows children to be physically hurt at school. I am assuming, of course, that your use of the word "hurt" is the familiar one I see defined in my copies of The American College Dictionary, Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary and Funk and Wagnalls. Corporal punishment, by definition, physically hurts. That's its purpose. Therefore, I am forced to conclude that either your use of the word "hurt" is based on an obscure interpretation, or you are uninformed about the education code of your own state. That code currently says in part:TITLE 49 EDUCATION CHAPTER 6 ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PART 41 SCHOOL DISCIPLINE ACT 49-6-4103. Corporal punishment.Please note that in the above, the drafters left "reasonable," "good cause" and "discipline and order" entirely to the discretion of the punisher, and offered no due process protection to the punishee. To find an equivalent arrangement between adults, you have to go back in history to the days when wives, servants and slaves were chattels.
Any teacher or school principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any pupil for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools. [Emphasis added]
You say, "the law clearly states that anyone who comes in contact with a child that has been abused must, I repeat must report it to the authorities."
You are probably right about that. I certainly hope so. It would seem, then, logically, a faithful adherence to the law would require any schoolteacher or school principal who administers corporal punishment, i.e., batters a child in the pelvic area with a piece of wood, to promptly report himself or herself to the appropriate authorities. I think that would result in a large number of reports. According to the most recent statistics available from the Office for Civil Rights l998 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report, 36,477 paddlings occurred in the public schools of your state during the '97-'98 school year. Among pupil beating states, Tennessee ranked fourth worst. More current statistics are expected to be released next month.
As for the photographs of injured children that were included in my mail to the commissioner, you may rest assured those incidents have been duly reported to health and law enforcement authorities. The parents of the respective victims not only reported the cases, sought medical treatment for their children, but pursued and exhausted all available means of redress. Moreover, two of those photographs were used to illustrate stories about teacher violence in national, mainstream magazines, and another was published in a major daily newspaper. Therefore it would be pointless and redundant for me to report as you demand, apart from the fact that I am not a mandated reporter.
Since we are on the subject of reporting abuse, I have a suggestion. Your office should consider sending an urgent memorandum to all Tennessee educators who are employed in schools where children are paddled. The memorandum should remind them of their duties as mandated reporters. That would go a long way toward curtailing child abuse and the types of injuries you saw in the photos we sent.
You say, "If you have this type of information and you do nothing with it then to send it to others to incite them to be against corporal punishment you may be guilty yourself of violating the law."
I do everything within my means to disseminate this information. Not only did the commissioner receive my letter, but each and every member of your state legislature received it. Furthermore it is posted prominently on our Web site. By now, probably most people on our mailing list (about 1,800 readers) are aware of it. That readership is small but select. It includes, among others: researchers, educators, education policymakers, health care professionals, journalists and authors. Please don't misconstrue my intentions. My purpose, and the purpose of those who work alongside me, is to educate and motivate. "Incite" isn't the appropriate word.
Jordan Riak, Executive Director
cc: Commissioner Faye Taylor
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
P.O. Box 1033, Alamo CA 94507-7033
Web Site: "Project NoSpank" at www.nospank.net.
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